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Marking 100 Years of Women’s Suffrage in Manitoba

For the week of January 25, 2016

On January 28, 1916, Manitoba became the first province in Canada to grant women the right to vote in provincial elections. In 2016, we celebrate the 100th anniversary of this event, and the tireless efforts of the women who fought for the right to participate fully in political life.

Presentation of petition by Political Equality League for enfranchisement of women, Winnipeg, December 23, 1915. Back (from left to right): Mrs. A.V. Thomas, Mrs. F.J. Dickson. Front: Dr. Mary Crawford, Mrs. Amelia Burritt 
© Archives of Manitoba, Still images section, Event collection – presentation of petition, Item Number 173/3. Negative 9905

In 1912, Manitobans Jane Hample, Lillian Beynon Thomas, Francis Beynon, E. Cora Hind, and Nellie McClung formed the Political Equality League. They joined an ongoing movement of women from the other prairie provinces and Ontario who fought for women’s suffrage, which is the right to vote and to stand for election. Less militant than some suffragette groups in Britain, the Manitoba movement organized lectures and mailed pamphlets to politicians and newspapers. They performed their famous play called “The Women’s Parliament,” where women presented a satiric debate on whether men should be given the right to vote. The Political Equality League also won public opinion by garnering the support of influential groups such as the Grain Growers’ Association and the Labour Council. The provincial Liberal Party eventually offered its support as well.

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Portrait of Nellie McClung. McClung is known for her activism in the women’s suffrage movement and the Persons Case
© Cyril Jessop, Library and Archives Canada, Acc. no. 1966-094, PA-030212

In the 1915 election, the Conservative Party fell in the wake of a corruption scandal, and the Liberals won a landslide victory. The new premier, Tobias Norris, promised women’s suffrage if 17,000 people signed a petition. Members of the Political Equality League walked door-to-door to collect signatures. At the age of 93, Mrs. Amelia Burritt singlehandedly collected a remarkable 4,000 signatures. Two petitions, with more than 40,000 signatures in total, were successfully submitted to the Manitoba legislature.

Over the next few years, women all over Canada fought for the right to vote in their own provinces. Early in 1919, the right to vote in federal elections was extended to all women in Canada. The exception was Quebec, which did not follow until 1940. Many minorities and First Nations also had a long fight ahead before they were finally granted suffrage.

Winning the vote by women is commemorated as a National Historic Event. Nellie McClung and E. Cora Hind are designated as National Historic Persons. To learn more about these women read Nellie McClung: A Feminist Icon and E. Cora Hind: Outstanding Journalist and Activist in the This Week in History archives. For details about the Political Equality League’s "Women's Parliament" see Winnipeg Women Hold "Mock" Parliament. Finally, follow this link to watch a Heritage Minute about McClung and the mock parliament.

Follow us on Twitter @ParksCanada! Also, click here to learn about the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.

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